Scientists unearth 240 million-year-old ‘Chinese dragon’ fossil

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BEIJING, Feb 27, (Agencies): Researchers at the National Museums Scotland have made a groundbreaking discovery, unearthing a fossil of a 240 million-year-old aquatic reptile known as Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, previously dubbed the “Chinese dragon.” The fossil, found in Guizhou Province in Southern China, has been the subject of study since its initial identification in 2003. However, recent findings of additional, more complete specimens, including one fully articulated, have allowed researchers to comprehensively identify the ancient reptile for the first time.

Scientists from various parts of the world, including Scotland, Germany, America, and China, collaborated on this discovery. Over a decade of analysis took place at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing.

Belonging to the Triassic period approximately 240 million years ago, this species with “32 separate neck vertebrae” exhibited flippered limbs, indicating its adaptation to an oceanic lifestyle. Notably, the fossil revealed exquisitely preserved fishes in its stomach region.

In a press release, NMS scientists pointed out the extraordinary features of Dinocephalosaurus, comparing its long neck to that of Tanystropheus hydroides, another marine reptile from the Middle Triassic of Europe and China. Despite some similarities, Dinocephalosaurus is distinguished by its snake-like appearance due to the greater number of vertebrae in both the neck and torso.

The scientists emphasized that, despite superficial resemblances, Dinocephalosaurus is not closely related to the famous long-necked plesiosaurs that evolved much later, around 40 million years after its existence. This clarification dispels any connection to the Loch Ness Monster myth.

Dr. Nick Fraser FRSE, Keeper of Natural Sciences at NMS, expressed the bafflement of paleontologists in the face of the Triassic’s weird and wonderful creatures. He believes that the striking appearance of Dinocephalosaurus, reminiscent of the mythical Chinese Dragon, will capture imaginations globally.

Professor Li Chun from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology highlighted the collaborative effort with colleagues worldwide, using newly discovered specimens to enhance their understanding of Dinocephalosaurus, deeming it “the most remarkable” among its kind.

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